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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 4 (July 1, 1935.)

The Battlefields of Sport. — A Duel And The Derby

page 55

The Battlefields of Sport.
A Duel And The Derby.

No modern novelist would dare to tell a story such as surrounds the running of the Derby in 1867 when Hermit won the race by half-a-neck and gained revenge for his owner over a man who had done him a grievous wrong.

The principals in this drama were Henry Chaplin, afterwards Lord Chaplin and the Marquess of Hastings. Chaplin, the Squire of Blankney, had an income of £40,000 a year. Hastings, well-born and rich, had entered on a path which cost him all he had. The Marquess had inherited his fortune while still a boy; his high spirits and easy-going ways made it easy for him to find friends to help him waste it. At Oxford he was associating with the wrong people, and before long it was seen that the traits of his mother had been repeated in him. (She had frequented the foreign casinos for years and was known for her nonchalant staking of enormous sums on the turn of a card and for her utter lack of emotion whether she lost or won). The attraction of the turf was too strong to be escaped by such a boy and thus the Marquess became an ardent racing man. It meant the end of his University career, for a forbidden visit to a famous training stable at Danebury was discovered and young Plantagenet, the last of his family, was sent down from Oxford.

This early freedom merely aided the young man in his new interest. He soon owned his own string of racehorses and began winning a number of the minor races. When he succeeded in the Cambridgeshire with a horse named Ackworth, however, he collected so much money from his wagers that he was encouraged to begin plunging in the manner of his mother and to head towards his complete downfall.

It was in the same year that he began the love affair which had its aftermath in the 1867 Derby.

The third person in the triangle was Lady Florence Paget, second daughter of the Marquess of Anglesea, called by her friends “the pocket Venus,” small, high-spirited, and of a loveliness which brought her unremitting attention from the young men of the Sixties. For some reason Lady Florence had been attracted to the steady-going Henry Chaplin, a young man just down from Oxford, whose head was always the master of his heart. But hardly had their engagement been announced when the Marquess of Hastings, far more the girl's type and far better able to strike response from her, began to pay attentions to her. Chaplin was unperturbed, it was nothing new for a young man to be conquered by “the pocket Venus” at first meeting, and the assiduous young Plantagenet did not trouble him in the least. Chaplin had complete faith in Lady Florence, but he was to find that his faith was misplaced. Five days before the date set for the wedding the girl was out shopping with her fianceá when she stopped their coach in Regent Street and told him to wait while she made some purchases. When she stepped out of the vehicle she went completely out of his life.

It was after a long wait that Chaplin impatiently set out to find her and was told that she had met Lord Hastings and that they had left together by another door. Anxious inquiries soon established the staggering fact that the pair had been married that afternoon by special license. It was a tremendous blow to Chaplin, whose freezing manner prevented any friend from mentioning the affair to him from that day. But the wealthy young landowner had not the nature which forgives easily and he was determined that his successful rival should pay dearly for the foolish figure which he had cut in front of all England.

An odd twist of fate is to be found in the fact that the horse which gave the commoner his revenge was actually bid for by both Chaplin and Lord Hastings. Hermit, an apparently valueless horse, was auctioned at a race-meeting where both men were in attendance, but Chaplain had seen possibilities in the animal and determined to buy him. Dislike probably spurred him on when he found that Hastings, too, was bidding for the horse. On his side, Hastings was determined that, if Chaplin wanted Hermit he should pay highly for him and the Marquess forced up the price to a thousand pounds, after which Chaplin raised the bid another £50 and became owner of a future Derby winner.

At the time no one but Chaplin believed that the real worth of the horse was even a thousand shillings, and though Hermit was entered for the Derby, that fact did not cross anyone's mind save that of his new owner. This was all into Chaplin's hands. Lord Hastings was betting heavily, paying enormous prices for horses which were completely useless, losing tremendous sums on ill-judged wagers. As the Derby of 1867 drew near the Marquess looked around for a method of improving his extremely shaky financial position, and in Hermit he saw the very thing he seemed to need. By the time that the race-day came Lord Hastings was pledged to such an extent that he stood to lose £100,000 if Hermit won the race while Chaplin page 56 knew that the success of his horse would bring him in £140,000. In the last few days there had been a story of Hermit bursting a blood-vessel and this had caused even longer odds to be laid against the horse and an immense increase in Hastings' liabilities.

Hermit recovered sufficiently for him to go to the starting post, but his chances of winning were considered so small that when he was seen on the course one humorist shouted an offer to purchase the horse for £15. The starting price of sixty-six to one revealed the public valuation of his ability. On the morning of the great race there was a fall of snow and the ardent racegoers had to face the added discomfort of biting wind and showers of sleet. During the process of lining up the horses the field was ten times recalled because of false starts. When they got away at last Hermit dumb-founded the crowd by revealing his pace from the beginning, sweeping past the field and, in a terrific finish, winning by a neck.

Lord Hastings was ruined, but no one on the course saw him show any sign of distress at his plight. His mother's ability to remain unruffled in the face of reverses had been passed on to her son. He was not only wrecked financially, but before the end of the year, after a series of wild attempts to win money in various ways in order to meet his creditors, all of which failed hopelessly, the Marquess died. “Hermit fairly broke my heart,” he said on his death bed, then adding anxiously: “But I didn&t show it, did I?”

“Lumme,” said the bus driver to the fare alongside, “that's a bosker pipe of yourn mister!” “Ten bob's worth,” replied the owner, “it's a patent—works the nicotine out, see?” “Ain&t no time for patent pipes meself,” remarked the driver, “always going wrong. Just a ordinary pipe wif no frills for your ‘umble. This ‘ere” (a stumpy briar) “never goes wrong, smokes as sweet as sugar, and cost ninepence. You've no call for patent pipes s'long as yer bacca's right.” “What kind d'you smoke?” queried the passenger. “Toasted, of course,” said the driver, “Cut Plug No. 10. Ain&t ‘ardly no nikerten in toasted. The toasting does the trick. Talk abaht yer imported, it's not in it wif toasted—the reel tossted I mean—not one o'them blanky imitations.” “Often heard tell of it,” said the “fare.” “I'll get some.” “Can&t do no better,” declared the driver, “there's five brands, Cavendish, Cut Plug No. 10 (Bullshead), Navy Cut No. 3 (Bulldog), Riverhead Gold and Desert Gold. You pays yer money and you takes yer choice. Getting down? Ta! Ta!”*